Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession.
By Alison Weir.
May 2017. 535p. Ballantine, $28 (9781101966518);
Prominent royal biographer and historical
novelist Weir is well-placed to craft this detailed fictional portrait of Henry VIII’s second
wife. Second in the Six Tudor Queens series,
following Katherine of Aragon (2016), it begins
with Anne Boleyn’s youth at the courts of the
Netherlands and France, where she receives
an education, learns to value independent
thought, and views men’s perfidy firsthand.
Also transforming her character are her ongoing rivalries with her sister, Mary, and Cardinal
Wolsey, who she blames for her greatest romantic disappointment. Naturally, considerable
space is devoted to the king’s “Great Matter,”
the political and religious entanglements that
ensued as Henry sought to divorce Katherine
and wed Anne. Weir isn’t blindly sympathetic
toward Anne and doesn’t excuse Anne’s malice
towards Katherine and her daughter, Mary.
Instead, she explores Anne’s influences and
motivations, creating a multifaceted portrait of
an ambitious woman who reluctantly accedes
to Henry’s courtship and later acts out of desperation to protect herself and her daughter,
Elizabeth. Even readers who know Anne’s story
well should gain insights from this revealing
novel. —Sarah Johnson
The Baker’s Secret.
By Stephen P. Kiernan.
May 2017. 320p. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062369581).
By June fourth of 1944, Emma and her fellow
villagers on the Normandy coast have known
German occupation for years. The army takes
the lion’s share of whatever is available, leaving
the people hungry and wanting, and an atmo-
sphere of despair has settled
over the town. Emma was
still a young woman when
the Germans came and when
she watched as they killed the
kind Jewish baker to whom
she was apprenticed. From
that time forward, Emma has
kept her head down, baking
only the bread she is ordered to provide to the
German officers, until a day when her ingenu-
ity and fighting spirit lead her down a different
path. Taciturn and full of dread, Emma man-
ages to bring hope to her townspeople, finding
solutions to their needs and delivering food to
the starving and wish-list items to the down-
hearted. But even while helping others, Emma
feels only a stubborn nihilism, wondering why
she even bothers when there is no sign of relief
on the horizon. Kiernan (The Hummingbird,
2015) invites readers to fully connect with his
depressed and stoic heroine in this beautifully
written account of the emotional and moral
struggles of a people gripped by fear in the
depths of WWII. —Cortney Ophoff
Becoming Bonnie: The Crash of the
Century, When Bonnie Met Clyde.
By Jenni L. Walsh.
May 2017. 304p. Forge, $25.99 (9780765390189).
The odds against Bonnelyn Parker ever having a normal life mount daily, right from the
start. Parker’s tightly knit family barely scrapes
by after her father’s death, and when her mother can’t work, Bonnie ups her waitress earnings
with a second job, at a speakeasy, where the exciting (and dangerous) customers, jazz music,
and dancing top the poverty and boredom of
her north Texas neighborhood. Although she
marries her childhood sweetheart, Roy Thornton, when Bonnie meets Clyde, the die is cast.
More a biographical sketch of the early life of
a legendary woman than the rip-roaring-crime-spree story some may expect from the title,
Walsh’s debut historical novel brings the Prohibition era, the Great Depression, and American
gangsters to life through the personality and
circumstances of a notorious moll who starts
out as a good girl. Although the story focuses
on Bonnie, supporting characters provide further perspectives on the magnetic pull of jazz,
illegal booze, and a (short) life on the lam. Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night (2012) and Renee
Rosen’s Dollface (2013) paint similar portraits.
Look forward to the sequel for later exploits of
these notorious bandits. —Jen Baker
By Beatriz Williams.
July 2017. 384p. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062670793).
American Virginia Fortescue, an ambulance driver during WWI, meets enigmatic,
older British army surgeon Simon Fitzwill-liam. Virginia’s family secrets complicate her
relationship with Simon, a man with secrets
of his own and a penchant for convenient lies,
none of which stops the two from marrying.
Fast-forward five years, the war is over, the Jazz
Age roars, and Virginia arrives in Cocoa Beach
to settle Simon’s estate; he’s been killed in a
fire. His siblings, gruff Samuel and vivacious
Clara, enlighten Virginia as to Simon’s true
character, and when Virginia delves into her
husband’s business interests, dark forces surface. Best-selling Williams’ (The Wicked City,
2017) Prohibition-era Florida, in contrast with
mud-sodden France and cold, dreary Eng-
land, is all orange groves and warm beaches,
an “exotic place” that is also dangerous, with
“sharp-fanged creatures lurking . . . brimful
of poison and malice.” Abundant with inde-
pendent women and illicit booze, this mix of
historical fiction and romantic suspense is a
good choice for reading on one’s own (hope-
fully less perilous) vacation in sunny Florida or
snug at home. —Bethany Latham
A Fugitive in Walden Woods.
By Norman Lock.
June 2017. 240p. Bellevue, paper, $16.99
Former slave Samuel Long, having gained
his freedom by chopping off his hand and
cauterizing the wound in hot tar, travels the
Underground Railroad to Massachusetts, where
he is taken in by Ralph Waldo Emerson and employed
as a minder for an eccentric
recluse named Henry David
Thoreau. This fourth book
in the American Novels series, following The Port-Wine
Stain (2016), again demonstrates Lock’s uncanny ability
to inhabit historical figures and meticulously
capture the vernacular of the time like a transcendental ventriloquist. Samuel’s days are
spent accompanying Thoreau, who is rendered
authentically as an absent-minded genius, exasperating contrarian, misanthropic curmudgeon,
and aphoristic philosopher in equal measure.
The most delightful passages find Thoreau,
Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne discussing the issues of the day in high literary style,
trading barbs, and tossing off one-liners worthy of Bartlett’s. The text interweaves dialogue
known to be spoken or written by Thoreau,
Emerson, and Hawthorne with that made up
by Lock and attributed to these giants of American literature. Lock’s remarkable achievement is
that the reader cannot tell the difference. The
real power of the story, however, comes from
Samuel, who more than holds his own among
these geniuses. His experiences of brutality offer
profound insights that sharpen our understanding of American history. —Bill Kelly
Hadriana in All My Dreams.
By René Depestre. Tr. by Kaiama L.
May 2017. 160p. Akashic, paper, $15.95
It would take a long time to unwrap the
many layers of metaphor in this ribald and
colorful yet strangely haunting novel, written
by a son of Haiti who was born in the seaside
town of Jacmel, the very setting he so vividly
describes here. During the gaudy carnival season of 1938, tragedy strikes: the much loved,
pale-skinned Hadriana Siloé drops dead at her
wedding altar. The locals are convinced a local villain, Balthazar Granchire, is to blame.
In a dazzling dose of magic realism, Balthazar
is described as having metamorphosed into a
butterfly that deliberately sets about deflower-